With the new European Digital Innovation Hub, the EDIH, the Northern Netherlands has brought in a new cash cow. Our region is going to specialize in autonomous systems.
As part of its digitization strategy, Europe will have a network of 200 EDIHs. The themes are spread across Europe. Quartermaster Hans Praat is pleased that the northern EDIH can focus on autonomous systems. 'A shot in the arm. Autonomous systems are becoming indispensable to go through the important transitions and offer many opportunities for industry to start delivering new products and services.'
The companies that can provide autonomous systems have great opportunities. Because: we have to, with the challenges ahead of us. The tight labor market is obviously pinching, but there are also substantial issues in the energy sector, in health care, construction, agribusiness and more. Among other things, autonomous systems use artificial intelligence to make processes better and more efficient. They are already on the rise; the allocation of the EDIH will accelerate their delivery in the North, Praat believes.
'This is really going to be a cash cow, if it turns out as we think it will,' he says. 'We have funding for the next seven years to make the Northern Netherlands a leader in the field of autonomous systems. Part of that is to become the testing ground of Europe. Through collaborations between companies, government and knowledge institutions, we have the opportunity to build a lead.
We develop facilities where testing can take place, we set up projects to convert knowledge into products, we establish connections with the rest of Europe. This is where the innovation is going to take place that can be exported.'
In just about every industry, autonomous systems are becoming increasingly important. In our part of the country, the focus is on those areas where transitions need to be made towards making the economy more sustainable: smart agro; the factory of the future, Life Sciences & Health; built environment, utilities (especially energy) and mobility. And so the answers to those tasks on the one hand, and the development of autonomous systems on the other, reinforce each other. Hans Praat: "To make these transitions visible, and especially the answers that autonomous systems can provide, we want to develop test facilities for each discipline. In these, providers and potential customers can directly show and see what the technology can do. That is also where collaborations and innovative projects come about.'
Many more programs are being created. For example, a skills program is in the making, new services for financial support of companies that want to become active in the field of autonomous systems, the new national learning concept Smart Makers Academy, an entrepreneurial desk and a program to profile the Northern Netherlands as an expert region. Forty organizations - from employers' clubs to educational institutions - are thinking and participating.
The EDIH is loose, the presentations for the Hannover Messe have been made, and the opening drinks will follow sometime this spring. 'We are going to highlight the themes and the role of autonomous systems in them in the coming period. Together with the companies involved as suppliers, we will strengthen their propositions. We will put them in the shop window at home and abroad. And we are going to attract companies looking for an environment full of innovation. We have the knowledge here, which we are going to expand further, also at the university and colleges, where there will also be more attention for the subject.
While there are similarities here and there (a Smart Factory cannot exist without Autonomous Systems), EDIH is not a direct successor to the Smart Industry Hub (SIH). The approach of the SIH is to help the manufacturing and process industries get smarter. Demand-driven, you might say. The EDIH essentially works in reverse. There, the emphasis is on strengthening the supply of companies that supply autonomous systems. Still, the network built up and the knowledge gained in recent years are of course valuable for the growth of EDIH in the Northern Netherlands.